Google’s mission is simple – help people find what they’re looking for as accurately and efficiently as possible. To achieve this, aim the Google algorithm is constantly evolving to index content in smarter ways.
On the flip side, as a business owner you want your website to rank as highly as possible in search results to maximise your traffic and leads. This means that any algorithm updates have the potential to affect where your site is sitting in search results.
So what does this mean for your website? We’ll find out as we drill into 5 Google algorithm updates and what they mean for your ranking, as well as ways that you can future-proof your website to maximise your chances at ranking.
1. Page Layout
In an announcement that will be music to every Internet user’s ears, Google plans to go after websites that are too “top heavy” with advertisements with an update to the page layout algorithm.
Google has stated that users were complaining that they were finding it difficult to find relevant content when visiting a website due to a proliferation of advertisements, having to scroll down the page to find what they were looking for. In order to improve user experience across the board, Google hinted that websites with a lot of adverts “above the fold” might not rank as highly in future.
From this, we can gather that this update has been implemented to weed out sites with higher ratio of adverts to content. More specifically, Google are targeting sites that are stuffed with advertising at the top of the page.
So what can you look for as a business owner if you don’t want your website to be penalised in search results?
Pay attention to where adverts are sitting on your site. As Google’s Head of Search Spam, Matt Cutts says, “If you look at the top part of your page and the very first thing you see front and centre, top above the fold is ads right there, then you might want to ask yourself, ‘do I have the best user experience?’”
This hits the nail on the head when it comes to Google’s whole aim of improving user experience – by ensuring that websites are populating their pages with quality content relevant to search keywords instead of advertisements, they are creating an Internet that is “content-first”.
2. Authorship Removed
In June 2011, Google implemented a new feature called Authorship to highlight authors who provided consistently high-quality content. Just a few years later, however, Google Webmaster Tools’ John Mueller announced via Google+ that the feature would be phased out.
What made Google terminate this feature which was meant to help users find content posted by credible authors?
Put simply – it just wasn’t as useful as Google expected it to be. They found that rather than improving user experience, it detracted from results and there was little to no difference in terms of click-through rates. Add this to the fact that the majority of websites didn’t utilise the Authorship markup, and those who chose to did so incorrectly, and it seems Authorship was destined to be a short-lived initiative.
3. HTTPS & SSL Update
After months of buzzing and whispers, Google has unveiled an algorithm update to give websites with HTTPS & SSL implemented. In simple terms, HTTPS is a protocol for securely transmitting data over the Internet through an encrypted connection – commonly used in ecommerce transactions to keep payment details safe from prying eyes.
Google has emphasised that the update will start out small, offering minor prioritisation for websites with a secure encryption. Although most likely in its beta testing phase, if positive results are seen in terms of search traffic there’s a good chance Google will strengthen this update to encourage website owners to move to a more secure encryption to increase safety on the web.
Google’s Panda update was a way to prevent websites with poor quality content such as scraper sites, content farms and those with shallow content from climbing their way to the top of the search results. This algorithm change is monitored and updated on an ongoing basis to ensure that website that have slipped through the net are eventually penalised.
In an effort to improve user experience and accuracy in search results, the Panda update prioritises websites with quality, authoritative content that is easy to read.
This update is believed to be more precise giving smaller websites with high quality content a chance to rank better in Google searches, while sites with poor content are penalised.
In the early days of the web, one way to get your website ranking in Google was to submit it to “link farms” and online directories which would link to your site, making your URL more likely to be picked up by Google and seen as an authoritative source. However, the Google bots are a lot smarter these days, and the Google Penguin update is designed to catch spam-ridden websites, especially sites such as link directories that buy links or use links from networks as a way to boost their search rankings. This update also targets websites which over-optimise their anchor text and engage in sneaky tactics such as “keyword stuffing”.
Of all the updates on this list, website owners have arguably been hit hardest by Penguin, with some sites’ ranking still plummeting even after link clean-up. Mueller has said that Penguin requires a complete rerun, but in the meantime has encouraged site owners to consider important points such as the quality of their website, velocity of link building, anchor text and link sources.
How Can Your Website Adapt to Google Algorithm Changes?
Driven by their mission to weed out low quality content websites and offer searchers with the best possible results, Google will continue to roll out updates to many of its algorithms. You’re probably focused on running your business and don’t have the capacity to keep on top of these updates which seem to roll out every other day – so what steps can you take to make sure your site stays Google-friendly?
Make Your Website Easy to Index
One factor that is unlikely to change is how easy your website is to “crawl” by the Google bots. Generating and updating a sitemap, which is a list of your site pages and information architecture, and submitting this to Google via Webmaster Tools will ensure that your site structure is easily indexed now and as your site grows.
If your site is built in WordPress, it’s as easy as implementing a feature such as Yoast SEO which will automatically generate a sitemap for you. If you have a static website (i.e. a site not built on a content management system) there are lots of free tools available online to create a sitemap for you.
Focus on Quality, Keyword-rich Content
Google’s approach to indexing the web has always been “content is king” – if you focus on this, you can’t go far wrong. A website centred around high-quality, well-written content that provides value to visitors will maximise your chances of ranking in search results, no matter what algorithm modifications are released over the coming months and years.
Gone are the days of stuffing content pages with keywords over and over, which made for good Google rankings but nonsensical text. Search engines are a lot smarter now, and gone are the days when shady tactics such as filling the bottom of pages with keywords as white text on a white background would help you ascend the ranks.
Your best bet when it comes to optimising your site content for maximum chances at Google success is to provide well-written copy that integrates keywords and phrases naturally throughout the text.
There is also an increasing emphasis on “long-tail keywords”, which are phrases specific to your business that will help you rank in your niche. For example, a keyword such as “accountant” is incredibly competitive and it will take a lot of work and months or even years to start to see results. You have a better chance at ranking with long-tail phrases such as “small business tax accountants in Sydney” which is much more specific.
Make Your Website More Secure with HTTPS Encryption
Though the HTTPS/SSL Update is probably still in beta testing, reports showed that Google has seen positive results. If it keeps up, more updates are going to zero in on this aspect of websites. So be sure to make your website more secure by using a strong HTTPS encryption.
Make Sharing Easy
Virtually everyone is using social media these days, and in order to attract visitors and adapt with Google changes, making sure your website is shareable through social media platforms is a huge bonus for your search engine ranking. When visitors sharing contents via social networking websites, you are indirectly attracting links.
Remember that search engines, and Google in particular, have taken into account social media signals as part of the ranking factor. In short, the more shareable your site is via social media, the better your ranking potential, as Google recognises that if people are sharing your content, it most likely is high-quality content that adds value.
The Bottom Line
Every time we try to define SEO, Google releases a game-changing update that rewrites all the rules. There was a time when simply submitting your site to a link farm and stuffing your page full of keywords, even to the point where the text was unreadable, was enough to make your site skyrocket to the top of search results. Google’s algorithm however continues to improve and become smarter in line with their aim of providing users with the best and most relevant content in their search.
Google is constantly changing, but a constant is the value they place on content. Focusing on legitimate SEO methods and prioritising quality content will never lead you astray.
For more reading on recent Google algorithm changes, check out these previous Marketing.com.au posts:
- Google Penguin Now Realtime and Part of Core Algorithm
- Changes Detected in Google SERPs in Early September
Latest posts by Scott Donald (see all)
- 5 Google Algorithm Changes and How You Can Future-Proof - November 22, 2016